The Cherokee Nation has partnered with consumer electronics giant Apple in the development of language software for three of its most popular products- the iPhone, iPod, and iPad. Apple’s line of computers, Macintosh, has supported the Cherokee language since 2003.
The Cherokee Nation began actively pursuing a relationship with Apple three years ago when tribal leaders decided that having Cherokee on the iPhone would be a strategic way to promote Cherokee language use among the tribe’s younger members. Given that most of the tribe’s 8,000 Cherokee speakers are over the age of 50, reaching Cherokee youth is an imperative if the language is to survive.
Apple devices currently support only 50 of the world’s 7,000 languages, so the inclusion of Cherokee is seen as a real accomplishment for the tribe. Joseph Erb of the Cherokee Nation’s language technology division was quoted in the Washington Post as saying “There are countries vying to get on these devices for languages, so we are pretty excited we were included.”
The Cherokee Nation has a long history of valuing language. In the early 1800’s one of its members, a blacksmith named Sequoyah, created a written alphabet with 85 Cherokee characters. Shortly thereafter the tribe purchased a printing press and began publishing the first bilingual newspaper in the United States. Chief Chad Smith has compared the importance of the current integration of language technology to the development of the tribe’s written language and its use of the printing press nearly two centuries ago.
Tribal leaders’ interest in language reclamation and preservation is perhaps best summed up by Sequoyah Schools superintendent Rita Bunch, who is quoted in the Washington Post as asking “What makes you a Cherokee if you don’t have Cherokee thoughts?”
Given the popularity of texting among teenagers and young adults, this new technology may help ensure many generations of Cherokee thoughts to come.
For more information see the Washington Post’s December 26 article here.